To keep the nation running during the coronavirus pandemic, a certain segment of the population has continued to go to work despite the health risks – both to perform essential functions and to staff businesses that allow the rest of society to retain a sense of normalcy.
That segment of the population is at greater risk of being exposed to Covid-19. And, in another example of the racial disparities highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis, it consists disproportionately of people of color.
It’s among the findings in a new report published Wednesday by the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research think tank.
Black, Hispanic and Native American workers are more likely than their White counterparts to have jobs that require them to work outside their homes and in proximity of others, putting them at greater risk of contracting and transmitting the virus, according to the report.
Researchers found that 53% of Hispanic/Latinx workers and 51% of Black and Native American workers were in either essential or non-essential jobs that required them to work in person and close to others, based on data from 2018 representing 152.7 million workers. In comparison, 41% of White workers had similar jobs.
“The greater virus exposure risks faced by these workers likely contribute to the higher rates of Covid-19 cases and death among these groups,” the report’s authors wrote.
And it wasn’t just spending the day at work that put those employees at greater risk than their White peers.
More Black and Hispanic/Latinx workers primarily used public transportation to commute to work, the report stated. Along with Native American workers, they were also more likely to live in multigenerational households – increasing the likelihood that they could spread the virus to older family members.
Access to healthcare is a compounding factor, too. Black, Native American and Hispanic/Latinx workers who had to leave their homes for their jobs are less likely to have health insurance than White workers, according to the report.
Data from 2018 indicates that 16 percent of Black workers and 28 percent of Native American and Hispanic Latinx/workers lack health insurance, compared to 10 percent of White workers, researchers noted.
Given the heightened risks, the authors of the report said that it’s even more imperative that policies and measures be put into place to protect the most vulnerable workers.
They suggested mask wearing and social distancing outside the home, as well as instituting barriers between workers and customers. As vaccines for Covid-19 are on the horizon, they recommended targeting distribution of those vaccines to those workers. And they emphasized the importance of building trust in the vaccines.
Protection for workers who lose their jobs could also help, according to the report.
The data used in the report came from the Public Use Microdata Series of the 2018 American Community Survey.
The Urban Institute’s findings are bolstered by other data and research.
In addition to higher rates of infection among Black, Hispanic/Latinx and Native American communities, Black and Hispanic workers faced greater economic and health insecurity from the pandemic than White workers, the Economic Policy Institute reported in June. A report from the JPMorgan Chase Institute found that they also shouldered the worst burden through job losses and front-line work.